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September 4, 2003

Dang! Somebody went and actually read the book!
Posted by Teresa at 09:38 PM *

From The American Prospect comes Divine Right, on an unlikely shift in conservative Christian sentiments in Alabama:

Montgomery, Ala. — For the first time since black ministers and some of their white brethren marched arm in arm in the civil-rights era, a group of Christians in the South are championing social and economic justice for the dispossessed as a matter of spiritual imperative. Curiously, or perhaps inevitably, the spawning grounds of this progressive movement are Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala., those fiery stations of the civil-rights cross. But as if determined to defy the most cherished stereotypes and bedrock prejudices of enlightened liberals everywhere, the primary actors in this campaign are the kind of white, conservative, Billy Graham evangelicals to whom Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed his Letter from Birmingham Jail — a missive that, in its day, achieved a resounding absence of effect.

On Sept. 9, Alabama citizens will vote on a proposal to reform the state’s regressive tax code. Whether or not the measure passes — and both opinion polls and Alabama history suggest it will fail — the story of how a progressive tax initiative became the subject of a statewide referendum, and how it came to be championed by a heretical faction of the religious right, including a conservative Republican governor, has political ramifications that will reverberate long after the vote itself.

Just outside Birmingham, on a proud hill overlooking a wealthy suburb, is Beeson Divinity School, the evangelical seminary of Samford University. It’s here that a perennial of liberal ideology was first grafted to the thick root of conservative theology.

Beeson, which teaches the inerrancy of Scripture, has generally been a Christian Coalition sort of place, a marketplace of ideas where southern-fried conservatism was often the only item on the menu. “We’re all conservatives here. We don’t have any liberals,” says Beeson Dean Timothy George. “We’re people who say we believe the Bible is the word of God. We generally agree with Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell. We’re very conservative Christian evangelicals.”

But last fall, Susan Pace Hamill, a Beeson theology student, published a master’s thesis arguing that “Alabama’s tax structure economically oppresses low-income Alabamians and fails to raise adequate revenues.”

Hamill, a tax-law professor at the University of Alabama, spent her sabbatical studying Scripture at Beeson. Her 112-page thesis, published in the fall 2002 issue of the Alabama Law Review, is an attack not only on Alabama’s regressive tax code — which requires poor families to pay up to three times the percentage of income in state tax that wealthy families pay — but on the Christians who permit such an injustice to persist.

In her thesis, Hamill stakes claims more reminiscent of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Party than Pat Robertson and the religious right. Citing ancient precedents of land tenure rights and debt forgiveness, she says the Bible mandates a “minimum opportunity” for the poor. Lest anyone miss the point, she goes on to argue that “minimum opportunity” in contemporary America consists of a decent public education. Lest anyone miss that point, Hamill demonstrates that Alabama public schools fall so woefully short of adequacy that only a drastic increase in funds could fulfill the state’s moral obligation.

The novel combination of Hamill’s left-wing argument and Beeson’s right-wing reputation earned front-page coverage in Alabama newspapers. Her ironclad research, including 21 pages of data tables, won praise from editorial boards. And in a state that raises the least tax revenue per capita, Hamill’s thesis — reprinted as a book titled The Least of These: Fair Taxes and the Moral Duty of Christians — somehow ended up as a rationale for politicians to imagine and initiate the unthinkable.

In late May, Gov. Bob Riley, a conservative evangelical Republican who’d never supported a tax increase in his life, unveiled a plan to enact the largest tax increase in Alabama history. Riley’s plan lays claim to enough revenue to pay off the state’s $675 million deficit and still raise hundreds of millions more for public schools and social services. In addition, Riley’s $1.2 billion plan substantially shifts the tax burden from poor Alabamians to the wealthy.

“Jesus says one of our missions is to take care of the least among us,” Riley told The Birmingham News in May, echoing the same Gospel passage that supplied the title of Hamill’s book. “We’ve got to take care of the poor.”

In June, after Riley’s controversial plan was passed by a state legislature not previously known for political courage, Alabama seemed to enter not a parallel universe but an inverted one: As tax cuts for high-income earners rain down from Washington and social services are slashed by cash-strapped states everywhere, Alabama — of all places — was suddenly racing in the opposite direction.

“It’s not just historic,” says James Williams Jr., executive director of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. “It’s a miracle.” (…)

Hamill began delving into the tax code along with her Bible studies. Under the tutelage of her Beeson professors — white, middle-aged, conservative, male evangelicals — she grew more conservative in her theology. And she became increasingly radicalized about the poor.

“I had come in as the greedy commercial pagan. Until this time I had spent all my professional career on the side of money,” Hamill says. “There were times when I was doing [research at Beeson] when I had to stop work because it was just too much. There were tears, despair over the injustice and my part in it.”

While the Bible is a famously supple text, allowing multiple, even contradictory exegeses on everything from the role of women to the death penalty, its message on the poor has an almost nagging consistency. The Jesus portrayed in the Gospels has enormous respect and compassion for the poor and little regard for wealth.

Hamill is uneasy about her work’s immoderate political implications. “I’m not comfortable with liberation theology,” she says. But she couldn’t deny what she read in the Book. And with Hamill constantly in their faces about it, neither could her teachers at Beeson. “It wasn’t just about reformatting me. I came out of there very different, but I think the same thing happened to them,” Hamill says.

“Susan is right on this issue,” says Frank Thielman, a New Testament scholar whom Hamill calls one of Beeson’s “super-size” conservatives. “The Bible’s on the side of the poor. Jesus is on the side of the poor. I don’t want to be caught on the other side.”
This has got to be the Holy Spirit at work, because nothing else explains it. That bird gets around. (via Laura Mixon)
Comments on Dang! Somebody went and actually read the book!:
#1 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 03:23 AM:

Despite all efforts to concentrate attention on the nature of Jesus, on following ritual, on arguing about sexuality, it every now & again happens that someone actually reads the Gospels.

Cynical? Who, me?

#2 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 05:50 AM:

Sometimes even an atheist finds herself coming out with a line like:

Good God!

which is all I can think of to say in response to news like this...

#3 ::: Larry Lurex ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 07:01 AM:

Whew! Thank goodness more Xtians don't read the Bible - there would be mayhem! Forgiveness of debts, care for the poor, the poor finding it easier to get to heaven than the rich, people disowning their families to worship Jesus...the Alabamans will soon come to their senses and stop reading the Bible. It would be nice if the law did get passed though. After all, Jesus was a socialist.

#4 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 07:19 AM:

I'm working on a reflection on James 2:1-5 early this morning, so this was perfect. My only kvetch is "Catholic Worker Party" -- the CW movement has never been that organized, which is one reason why it has survivied.

I found some resources about Professor Hamill's work. The site for PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly (a great show) has an excellent interview with Hammill. It looks like she may not be stopping with taxes:

Yes, the Bible is relevant for many things. In the conclusion of my book, after the article [on tax reform, I ask], do these principles speak to anything other than taxes? I think that maybe they do, although clearly I haven't developed that. I don't mention health care, but I do mention immigration. I do mention criminal justice. The fundamental doctrine that "the least of these" cannot be oppressed and they have to have some kind of minimum shot I do think applies universally to more areas of concern than just taxation. But I haven't developed that yet.

Even better, in its own way, is her Alabama Law Review article An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics. This is the real deal, an article on tax law by a tax professional with deep research support -- I love it. And there is her book, which for some reason I can't find on Amazon.

In one sense, this should not be surprising. People seem to forget that the alliance of evangelicals and political conservatives is of recent vintage, and that when they were involved at all in the past, evangelical clergy were just as likely (if not a little more likely) to be politically liberal as conservative.

#5 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 08:05 AM:

"It's not just historic, it's a miracle."


It's also an inspiring example of someone doing the right thing, finding the right angle to say something, and that having an effect.

#6 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 08:24 AM:

I'm not sure it's having the right effect. According to NPR yesterday evening, a majority of Alaba voters are against the tax change, including those who would benefit by it.

It's only one report, and it's not time to vote yet, but I was a little disappointed to hear that this rare summoning of courage was met by the usual reaction from those who buy into the "help the rich" rhetoric that comes from DC these days.

#7 ::: ben ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 09:28 AM:

I live in a progressive community (Portland), was brought up by progressive parents (teachers, teachers everywhere), and as a Russian Studies major in an erstwhile life developed an attitude as the years went on that was, er, progressively hostile toward anything smelling of socialism.

So I've kept my mouth shut about taxes, become something of a libertarian in any event.

At the same time, I've spent progressively greater amounts of time in studying the Bible, praying, and making the needed examination of the way I live and regard the people around me.

And this entry finally gave me the answer to beliefs on fiscal policy I've wanted to adopt all along -

"The've got their American Dream, and they can damned well foot the bill for it."

#8 ::: Greg Morrow ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 10:38 AM:

Frankly, I'm delighted with Bob Riley and the rest of the Alabama conservatives who have decided not to be hypocritical about their commitment to Jesus.

I think that the current mainstream (i.e., cheap-labor) conservative domestic policy is clearly immoral. I think that a proper moral approach to domestic policy inevitably leads one to a progressive formulation of domestic policy.

The whole American Prospect article is fascinating reading. Don't miss the discussion of the opposition to the tax referendum, which is led by a "Christian" group which gets most of its funding from the people and corporations who will be taxed more heavily by the new plan, and which does not bother to try and refute the Christian arguments of Hamill, Riley, et al.

#9 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 10:54 AM:

Good God! T., you are right that it is clearly the Holy Spirit at work in Alabama. Will the good Xtian citizens of the South actually vote to put a little bit of Biblical Law in place, as they say so loudly and often that they want?

I doubt it. I think it would be a Good Work to get this story, and Hamill's teachings, a lot more publicity.

Jesus was a communist, after all.

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 10:56 AM:

I have too much stuff, and should give it to the poor. This begs the question of whether the poor would want it.

#11 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 11:02 AM:

Mmmm... Here's Doug Bandow's argument against it. (And Stephen Moore's.) Both of them are clearly more conservative than Christian: anyone found a Christian Conservative arguing against it?

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 12:00 PM:

It's very, very hard to make a good Christian argument against being mindful of the poor. As the article says, that's one of the clearest and most frequently-iterated issues in the Gospels.

There are plenty of nominally Christian conservatives who manage to avoid thinking about that. The term for them is "Chino", short for "Christian in name only."

#13 ::: Tina Black ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 12:09 PM:

Heh. On the way to WorldCon, I forgot to grab my current book, so the first night enroute I was forced into the Gideon Bible for printed material. My roommate will attest that the same notion -- that the rich have no worth in God's eyes per se -- was something I found repeated over and over. There would be a statement about virtue, and then a smack at the rich.

That plus all the old psalms from childhood made an interesting evening of reading.

#14 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 12:42 PM:

Teresa, it's almost as hard to make a good Christian argument supporting bigotry against homosexuals - yet I've read tons of bad Christian arguments that do just that, and so many Christians in name only who see no problem with it. So I'd be surprised if there were no Christian conservatives out there arguing against the Alabama tax hike in Christian terminology.

#15 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 12:49 PM:

I like her argument--but let'e see if she can actually get the thing passed. Remember what happened to Jesus when He tried it...

#16 ::: Lara Beaton ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 01:50 PM:

The only counter argument that springs to mind is "Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's".

I think that was the only time Jesus specifically talked about taxes, but it has been a while since I read it.

#17 ::: trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 02:07 PM:


I see a need for that term, but have problems with that particular one. Where I am, it's the Spanish generic for "person from East Asia".

#18 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 02:07 PM:

Actually, Lara, Professor Hamill has been hit with that one, and has a great answer. Here is her whole take on that and the Christian Coalition from the PBS interview:

The Christian Coalition makes me angry because they are taking the Word and distorting it. First of all, they have fastened on "Render unto Caesar. ..." All that means, basically, is that taxes are not unlawful or immoral per se. You cannot say, "I'm a person of God; therefore, I don't have to pay my taxes." Jesus was not commenting at all on whether the taxes were fair or unfair. That passage does not in any way obliterate the requirement to work for justice, if in fact you have anything to say about justice. So the Caesar thing is almost a red herring, or at least it doesn't get to the heart of the matter, which is, given that we have to have taxation to run our state, you cannot run a state or community based on voluntary contributions; we're too greedy for that. The question is, okay, then it better be fair, since it's legally compelled. Is it fair? Do we have justice? That's the question. The Caesar thing doesn't help you there.

Another thing the Christian Coalition has said, which has really been irritating, is that this is all about charity, and it's up to the churches to give charity, to worry about the poor. The Bible does command charity and beneficence. Whether or not we're doing a good job of that in Alabama, well, there's a bit of a dispute that I'm not into, because my purpose is justice, not charity. But I will say this: even if you get an A+ in charity, if your churches are doing a wonderful job with the soup kitchens and everything else, an A+ in charity does not in any way mitigate an F in justice. You can't average the two out to be a C. When I talk about this in church, I say, "I'm going to assume for argument that, in the state of Alabama, we get an A+ for beneficence and charity, that we are really good at it, with our 8,000-plus churches." Some people say that's not a valid assumption, that we've got too many building campaigns. But I say, "Just assume that for a minute. Does that somehow excuse an F in justice, excuse that we tax the poor on wages into poverty, excuse that the public schools, especially in the rural areas, are substandard? Can we use an A+ in charity to say we don't have to be concerned about this injustice? No. The Bible commands both. They are separate. They are equally important, and one cannot replace the other." What the Christian Coalition is doing is confusing the two. If charity could establish justice, if they didn't have to be separate, then don't you think with our 8,000-plus churches and all the Christians we would be the shining light of the nation, instead of at the bottom in this area? Think about it. Just looking at Alabama is proof that charity cannot replace justice.

#19 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 02:45 PM:

Regarding the Chino attitude, and the Alabama Christian Coalition types, I wonder if, perhaps subconsciously, they've adopted a new, this-life version of the "Abominable Fancy":

"That the saints may enjoy their beautitude and the grace of God more abundantly, they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell." -- Thomas Aquinas

Move it into the real world, and adopt a belief that wealth is a sign of grace, and lack of wealth is a sign of the lack of grace, and it would follow that there's no need to help the poor. In fact, helping the wealthy would be akin to helping the top of a hierarchy of the saved. Helping the poor would be akin to helping the damned.

Obviously, you don't want the state set up to assist the damned, but if a member of the saved has a charitable thought for them, well, that's peachy.

Chinos probably wouldn't feel so good about themselves if they couldn't contemplate the contrast between themselves and those lazy, filthy, sinning poor people.

#20 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 03:23 PM:

Where I am, it's the Spanish generic for "person from East Asia".

I prefer to see the word used as a jab at a commonplace hypocrisy than as a racial epithet. Let's hope TNH's usage replaces the one you are familiar with. (I prefer "whited sepulchres", myself, although I admit it rolls less trippingly off the tongue.)

#21 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 03:39 PM:

Only problem with that, sennoma, is that it's an actual Spanish word, meaning "Chinese." I assume that trinker hears it in an extended colloquial usage in his community. But given that it's a real word in that other language, it'd be very hard to displace it entirely just to score rhetorical points. Not to mention that I'm not going to stop wearing pants for that reason, either.

That said, it, or something equally pithy, is a useful term to have around. And like the man and the fish, the colloquialismms no doubt can coexist.

#22 ::: Berni ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 06:30 PM:

Good for her. She says she won't mention the issue of medical insurance, but that's a whole huge injustice issue as well. And the loss of jobs -- here in Silicon Valley, so many computer jobs have gone off-shore. Non-computer support jobs such as mail room, purchasing, receiving and delivery, and inventory, are being outsourced: company employees who make a living wage are being laid off and replaced by minimum wage workers with no benefits. I don't know how they expect people to live like that.

#23 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 07:05 PM:

They don't.

Profit for the sake of profit is an evil which we are all presently experiencing; profit as an element of fulfilling some human purpose is utterly necessary.

'Accumulating money' isn't an acceptable human purpose when it leaves a human scale of utility.

#24 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 08:39 PM:

Does the separation of religion and state only apply when the religion proposes laws you don't like?

#25 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 09:36 PM:

Seperation of church and state doesn't apply to individual people's motivations, or a discussion of the practice of religion among a religion's adherents; so long as the law isn't testing for religion or advantaging one religion over another, that separation is being maintained.

No indication in that article that they're after anything like that, even if they think what they're after is something Jesus would approve of.

I think a dynamic Christian centre that was taking the Gospels seriously would be a very good thing to have enter the American political landscape.

#26 ::: Stuart Dimond ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 10:42 PM:

There are many moral issues that are dealt with in an ambiguous way by the Bible. The treatment of the poor is not one of them. The teaching in the Gospels is part of a tradition that is based in the words of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

Jesus was not making up something new and different, he was telling the Jews what the prophets had been telling them for hundreds of years and holding them accountable for not living their beliefs. (from the sermon on the mount: "do not suppose I come to abolish the law and the prophets, I come not to abolish but to complete".)

The Hebrew Bible is full of tales of the poor, the powerless, and women being raised up by God to confound the rich and the unjust.

Christians have a right and an obligation to call their fellow Christians to task when they ignore these principles. This is not an attempt to insert religion in the political process but a call at the personal level to ask people to live what they say they believe. It is quite different from someone like Falwell standing in his pulpit and criticizing non-Christians for being non-Christians, duh, of course they aren't.

The exegetical abuse of the Caesar passage by the literalist 'religious' right is typical of the slipshod way they approach the biblical text they claim to revere. They never take literally the parts of the Bible that apply to their behavior.

#27 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2003, 04:00 AM:

"Chino" is widely used in Spanish to refer not only to Chinese people, but to Japanese, Koreans, etc. (For example, Alberto Fujimori, the former president of Peru, who is of Japanese origin, was known as "el chino.") When I first encountered this sort of usage, I found myself saying (about whoever), "No, no es chino, es japone9s" (etc.)--and would have it explained that "son todos chinos." I don't think that a lot of Spanish speakers who say this think of themselves as racist. Though I've never had occasion to ask, I can't imagine that non-Chinese Asians are pleased about hearing themselves referred to thus.

#28 ::: Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2003, 07:29 AM:

Lara wrote: The only counter argument that springs to mind is "Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's".

See Romans 13:1-7, especially verse 5-7.

#29 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2003, 09:09 AM:

In Panamanian spanish slang, at least, "la china" is "the mistress," (more formally "la otra").

#30 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2003, 11:45 AM:

I have a vague recollection that "chino" is also slang for orange (the fruit), because oranges come from Asia (originally--these days they come from California and Florida). I still call them naranjas, when I'm not saying "orange."

#31 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2003, 01:02 PM:

"Chino" does mean orange in New York Spanish, presumably in some Caribbean countries too. Orange juice, which would be "zumo de naranja" in Spain, is "jugo de chino" in my local dominican restaurant.

#32 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2003, 05:16 PM:

"Orange" would be "china." My background is Puerto Rican (w/ a touch of Venezuelan), and AFAIK "naranja" and "china" are pretty much interchangeable in Latin American Spanish (anyone will understand both words), while "zumo" is very much a Spaniard's terminology for juice -- "jugo" is universal in Latin America.

#33 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2003, 08:58 PM:

So if one wanted to refer, in Cali-Mexican slang, to a Chinese orange who was someone's mistress... well, I just hope they wouldn't, that's all.

#34 ::: Jon Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2003, 09:20 PM:

I dunno. Whenever I read the term "Chino," I keep thinking about the pants.

Then again, maybe it's just me.

#35 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2003, 10:05 PM:

Maybe they were made in China.

I keep thinking of Maria's fiance, who shoots Tony in West Side Story.

#36 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2003, 10:14 PM:

The question that comes to my mind, thinking about this, is -- why is this such a miracle? If the New Testament is so very clear on the treatment of the poor, why does it take someone pointing out the obvious to make the Christian Right change their tune? Clearly, this is an unanswerable question. I just wonder what book they've actually been reading, and how they can justify thinking that the very parts they want to apply to others don't apply to them (see -- mixed forms of clothing, or my fave commandment that didn't make the Top Ten [which I believe is internally inconsistent in a Christian context] "Thou shalt not eat of the meat of anything that dieth of itself, but thou may give it to the stranger within thy gates or sell it in the marketplace."). (are both those periods correct at the end, T?)


#37 ::: Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2003, 12:13 AM:

Tom Whitmore quotes Deuteronomy 14:21: "Thou shalt not eat of the meat of anything that dieth of itself, but thou may give it to the stranger within thy gates or sell it in the marketplace."

Deuteronomy is the Old Testament, or the old covenant. The point of the New Testament is that Jesus makes a new covenant with all people (Hebrews 8). That new covenant overrides and revises elements of the old, especially as it is supposed to not be written law, but in the hearts of people (Hebrews 8:10). Deuteronomy 14:21 specifically is overridden in Mark 7:1-23 and Acts 10:9-16. And just for kicks, Deuteronomy itself already revises laws laid down in Exodus. The OT repeatedly revises the covenant, and the NT more often than not is fairly wishy-washy regarding the requirements of the new one.

#38 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2003, 06:02 AM:

Tom, Luke 16:20-31. Jesus, even, knew it and said so, though in a parable. (I've just been reading that book and the bible kust fell open to that passage. It Is A Miracle--I don't know chapter and verse to cite, ordinarily.)

#39 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2003, 09:36 AM:

Tom, re the periods (and T not having commented), I think the one inside the parens should go. That's a style thing, not a strict punctuation rule. Personally I'd recast the sentence to avoid the issue.

My 1/50 of a dollar. FWIW. IMV,VHO. Void where prohibited, restricted or taxed.

#40 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2003, 11:17 AM:

Reimer, if it's true that what Jesus said forms a new covenant with Christians, why are most people fomenting against (e.g.) homosexuals using Old Testament passages? And why don't their own congregations call them on it? (I could be wrong about this, not being a Bible scholar on any level, just trying to be culturally literate...) And thanks very much for including the actual citation!

Randolph, I think I'm dense this morning, but I don't see how that actually revises the verse I quoted.

Xopher, I understand your point; the reason I wonder is that the period was in the original quotation (I believe, but not having the original to hand I'm not certain); I'm odd in wanting to put the period outside the quote marks when it's not actively originally included, allowing the ellipsis to be inferred. With two punctuation marks intervening (the closes quotes and parenthesis) I slightly fear the closing of the original statement getting lost. Not to say you're wrong on it being a style issue -- just hoping to expand my reasons for wondering.


#41 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2003, 12:51 PM:

Tom, homophobic bigots use passages from the Old Testament as the basis for their righteous prejudice because Jesus doesn't seem to have been the kind of guy who would provide the bigots with the raw material they need to prove they're right to hate people. There's a passage or two in letters from Paul, and so they often quote Paul in preference to Jesus, but unfortunately Paul's condemnation of homosexuality is even more ambiguous than the Old Testament's condemnation. Still, when you're inventing the concept that a natural, normal human behaviour is the worst sin that ever was, you have to work with what you've got.

#42 ::: Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2003, 02:26 PM:

Tom: First of all, because the old covenant was not set aside, but amended (Matthew 5:17, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."). And as I said, the NT is fairly wishy-washy about what is to be kept of the precepts of the OT, and what to be revised. Second, the NT contains its fair share of anti-homosexual comments, too, and so you don't really need recourse to Leviticus 20:13 and the whole other fire and brimstone stuff from the OT, because it's arguable solely from the NT.

For NT sources, consider 1 Timothy 1:9-10, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and Romans 1:26-27, all of which condemn homosexuality in a pretty unambiguous fashion. (And then your run-of-the-mill bigots can go back and pull the OT parts back into evidence as part of the law to be obeyed; not that these people are generally likely to consider such exegetical niceties.)

#43 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2003, 03:43 PM:

Actually, Reiner, 1 Timothy 1:9-10 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 are pretty damned ambiguous: modern bigotry prefers to read these passages as a condemnation of homosexuality, however intrinsically unlikely this is.

Alternate interpretation of Timothy and Corinthians..

Romans 1:26-27 is less ambiguous. Here Paul is writing in condemnation of Roman ex-Christians who have left their faith and engaged in pagan rituals, which he says included orgiastic heterosexual behaviour and male homosexual behaviour. To argue that this verse should also be applied to lesbian and gay Christians would be absurd, if not for the many hatefilled bigots who have chosen to betray their religion in this manner.

#44 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2003, 04:30 PM:

Tom, I was thinking more that Jesus was quoted as saying, "If Moses and the prophets they do not hear, neither if one may rise out of the dead will they be persuaded." (Luke 16:31)

As for the bit of Deuteronmy you cited, it is written that Peter had a vision which relieved the apostles from many of the dietary laws--Acts 10:9-16. (That one took research, though I vaguely remembered it.)

Xopher, Paul just plain didn't like any sort of bodies and sexuality very much, and I believe there it is found--but I'm not going to research it, I have other things to do with this day!--one of the major sources of the sexual repressiveness of the later church.

#45 ::: Berni ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2003, 10:22 PM:

Yonmei wrote, "Still, when you're inventing the concept that a natural, normal human behaviour is the worst sin that ever was, you have to work with what you've got." This may depend on what flavor Christian you're dealing with.

I have an old pre-Vatican II prayer book. It lists the seven sins which cry out to heaven. Yes, homosexuality is there as is abortion, but so is defrauding a worker of his wages and cheating widows. The Catholic Church considers homosexuality (not being homosexual -- being gay in itself is not a sin) to be a sin, but it's not the worst sin. Not loving is truly the worst sin. The most promiscuous person in the world, gay or straight, has a higher place in heaven than one who obeys all the commandments if the first loves and the second doesn't.

#46 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2003, 01:02 AM:

"The Catholic Church considers homosexuality (not being homosexual -- being gay in itself is not a sin) to be a sin, but it's not the worst sin." In theory; in practice it sometimes seems that it ranks worse than murder. Generally, the christian sexual teachings seem to have been assembled in absence of any attention to human beings. For something which Jesus addressed relatively little--so far as I can tell he was actually more interested in the treatment of the poor--the various christian sects sure do get riled about it.

#47 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2003, 04:02 AM:

Yes, I misspoke myself. I know that formally very few Christian sects really consider homosexuality to be the *worst* sin. But many of them focus so much attention on what is, so far as an informed reading of the Bible suggests, not in fact a sin at all, that you'd think it was.

Berni, the Catholic Church is wrong on this. Not just a little wrong: completely, absolutely, stupidly wrong. It's a kind of "what's wrong with this picture?" image, isn't it? "One of these things is not like the others." Declaring homosexuality a sin (and the "being homosexual isn't a sin - providing you're celibate your entire life, God will let you off" crap really doesn't work, unless you want to believe in a hateful, cruel God who creates people solely in order to torment them) is a cruel and horrible thing to do - you only have to talk to gay kids reared Catholic to know that. It's a form of child abuse, deliberately telling impressionable youngsters that there's something wrong with them (especially when there isn't) and encouraging other children to believe that there is something wrong with homosexuals. Of course it's not a form of child abuse that is exclusive to Christians: but so many Christians have indulged in it and still do that it seems worth pointing out, as often as possible, that they do so without any real unambiguous backing from either the Old or the New Testament: they are doing so because it is a thousand-year tradition in the Catholic Church to persecute people who have sex with their own gender.

#48 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2003, 11:20 AM:

A friend of mine, Carolyn Magner Mason, has been writing about this. She lives in Alabama, teaches there, writes about Alabama... and alas, she has little hope that any real change will come of this.

In a recent email, she said, "It's the plantation mentality, alive and well in BAMA. If you keep the folks poor and dumb, they'll work hard for you and won't get all uppity like their northern brethern."

#49 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2003, 02:37 PM:

I'm sorry, I'll have to come back later with more detailed comments. For now:

Being just and charitable are unambiguous commandments. The bits of the Bible quoted as being against homosexuality are far more ambiguous. To give you some idea, some of them have been interpreted in the past as condemnations of masturbation.

The early church canonized some saints whom a reasonable interpretation of the evidence would say were openly gay.

One interpretation I've heard of the "render unto Caesar" episode -- I don't know how authoritative this is -- is that the coins they all had in their pockets would have had Roman rulers stamped on them. If you're dealing in the world, you pay taxes in the world.

My father's old crony, Waldo Dewitt, once made a similar decision when he was an Arizona State Tax Commissioner. He was hearing a case where a tax protester said he didn't have to pay taxes because U.S. dollars weren't backed by gold and thus weren't real money. Waldo asked him how he'd gotten to the hearing.

"I drove," he said.

"You buy gas on the way?"


"What did you use to pay for it?"

#50 ::: Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2003, 08:56 AM:

Yonmei: To wrap this up, I'm quite familiar with the debate. Googling for the magical world arsenokoitai or its singular arsenokoitEs (capital E for η, transliteration-on-the-cheap) should turn up tons of hits for anybody interested. And I know sufficient ancient Greek to follow it. The problem is that the attack on the linguistic aspects -- the meaning of the word arsenokoitai, as used by Paul -- is extremely weak and usually easy to refute (and any homophobic Christian who doesn't know Wright's refutation of Boswell isn't probably worth arguing with to begin with). The page that you link to, for example, either rehashes unreliable secondary information uncritically, does not know ancient Greek, or actively conceals information. If you wish, I can give you details, but I do not want to extend this discussion beyond its lifetime.

The more general problem is that Paul had lots of hangups about sexuality in general, did in particular not approve of any extramarital sex, and considered even marriage to be an inferior alternative to celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:32-34,38). To assume, based on a fairly dubious linguistic interpretation, that he would somehow exempt any homosexual practices from his lists of sins sounds like wishful thinking to me.

I am personally not sure why one should adhere to what Paul is saying in that regard of all things. He advocates a lot of other things that we would never accept these days, from the misogynistic views expressed in 1 Corinthians 14:34-3 to the admonishment to slaves to obey their masters as they would obey Christ in Ephesians 6:5-8. If one uses his views to support homophobia, then by extension, they can also be used to support a lot of other nasty stuff.

#51 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2003, 05:54 AM:

Reimer, following a rather ugly incident on livejournal, someone else posted this link to Real Live Preacher. Enjoy!

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